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NFCA Drill: Infield (Posted 09/06/2002)

By Mike Tosti, Head Softball Coach

Cerro Coso Community College (Calif.)

Phase 1
Instead of having one player alternate hitting to everybody on the field, have her stand on the first-base side of the plate and hit only to the third baseman. The third baseman fields the ball and throws it to a designated catcher (shagger) who positions herself next to the fungo hitter. Send a second batter and shagger about halfway down the line toward first-base and have them hit balls to the shortstop. You now have six people active at once (two fielders, two fungo hitters and two shaggers). To get 12 people into the action, do the same thing on the other side of the diamond. One player on the third-base side of home plate hits to the first baseman, while another, halfway down the line toward third, hits to the second baseman. Each has her own shagger. The hitters, shaggers and fielders can switch positions every so often, and a great many fielding chances can be handled in a short time. Extra players may fill in behind any infielder and alternate taking grounders.

Care must be taken with this drill until the players get used to the set-up. It can be confusing with balls being hit from all directions. You may find that this is compounded if some of your players are not very good fungo hitters. For example, if slow rollers and toppers are being hit to the shortstop, when she charges the ball to make the play, she will have to dodge a fungo from her right thatís meant for the second baseman. Do not hit pop-ups, fly balls or bunts during this drill and tell the players not to charge slow rollers unless they're sure the coast is clear. Make sure everyone is alert to the possibility of players being in the line of fire and, after a short time, your unit will look like a precision drill team.

While many coaches have their outfielders, pitchers and catchers relegated to hitting and shagging during this drill, we like to get everybody rotating and playing different positions. It is good for every player to field ground balls, no matter what position she regularly plays. Also, if you coach a summer youth team, your older players will occasionally miss games because they have to work, and even younger players will have other commitments. You are likely to use players at many different positions during the season. One final note: It is a good idea for the coach not to hit fungoes or act as a shagger. Instead, you should oversee the implementation of the drill and observe all the fielders and correct errors in fielding and throwing techniques.

Phase 2
This variation calls for two fungo hitters to alternate hitting ground balls. One hits to the third baseman who makes a throw to first base. Then a second fungo hitter (positioned half-way down the line toward first) hits a ground ball to the shortstop who feeds the second baseman for an attempted double play. The two fungo hitters (each with her own shagger) must use good timing and coordinate their alternate hitting, making sure that the players are alert and ready. If any fielder is not involved in the action during the alternate play, she should get in the habit of cheering on her teammates who are making a play. This constant chattering is a sign of a hustling, "heads-up" team.

When done correctly, this drill is a picture of streamlined efficiency, with the third baseman working on fielding and making strong, accurate throws to first, the shortstop working on her "feeds" to the second baseman, the second baseman improving her double-play pivot, and the first baseman honing her footwork around the bag.

Phase 3
In this phase, the third baseman works on her double-play feeds to the second baseman, and the shortstop makes strong accurate throws to first. Again, the second baseman works on her pivot, this time with the throw coming from third. The first baseman continues to develop her footwork, properly shifting her feet around the bag. The two fungo hitters must again alternate and use good timing to keep things moving, while making sure that players are ready when each fungo is hit.

Phase 4
Now the fungo hitters and shaggers move to the third-base side of the diamond. One hitter, positioned near home plate, hits grounders to the first baseman who works on feeding the shortstop for a double play and, if she can get back in time, the second baseman must cover. (In a game situation, the pitcher may cover. Communication as the play develops is essential). Alternately, the other fungo hitter, halfway down the line toward third, hits grounders to the second baseman who works on her feeds to the shortstop. The shortstop is perfecting her pivot and throw to first to complete the double-play. To keep the third baseman active, put a third fungo hitter and shagger on the first-base side of home plate and have her hit ground balls to third for a play at home plate. Some things to remember: On double play balls, get the pivot player in the habit of yelling "TWO! TWO! TWO!" to indicate to her teammates that a double play is in order. Infielders tend to rush throws on feeds to the pivot and the pivot tends to hurry her "turn." Tell your players to take their time and get an out. The double play is a bonus. If you get it, fine -- but you want that first out.

As coaches, we see this scenario almost every game: With a runner on first, no outs and a ground ball to third, the third baseman senses the double play. She fields the ball clearly and, in her exuberance, rushes her throw, throwing either before she is set or before the second baseman gets near the bag. The ball ends up in right field and everybody advances an extra base. Now you have runners on second and third with no outs and the potential for a big inning. A seasoned third baseman will take her time, be sure of the first out at second base, and end up with either a double play or a runner on first with one out. If she doesn't get the twin killing, the double-play and force play at second are still in order with the next batter. This "get an out" frame of mind is especially important for a team that is ahead in the score. If you're ahead 6-0 in the sixth inning, you don't need a double-play -- one out will do just fine.

Make sure your fist baseman gives a chest-high target to all infielders throwing to her. Also, make sure your pivot player uses two hands on the pivot, not so much because she is likely to drop the ball, but because it makes for a faster release. She doesnít have to reach into her glove with her throwing hand because it is already there, eliminating one needless motion.

Similarly, if an infielder boots a ground ball, have her "stay with it," executing every play as if it were a real game. "You play like you practice" is an old coaching adage. If she is in the habit of reacting quickly to a miscue and pouncing on the ball, she may still be able to get the out. But if her practice habits include hanging her head after misplaying a ball and kicking the dirt in disgust, she is likely to do the same in game situations. A player should always pick up a fumbled ball with her throwing hand and continue to make the play. If she picks up the ball with her glove, she will have to reach into the glove to transfer the ball to her throwing hand, another unnecessary motion. Another way to handle an infielder's boot, if there is no longer any chance of retiring the runner, is to occasionally have your first baseman come off the bag toward the fielder, waving her arms and yelling "No, no, no!" to indicate no throw should be made. This gets the fielders in the habit of listening and communicating with each other. All too often a runner who was going to be safe at first anyway, ends up on second because the fielder makes an unnecessary throw. The other infielders, who can look at the play and gauge whether or not an out can still be made, must communicate.

Our experience is that players take too long in this decision-making. It takes a real "take charge" person to watch a ball carom off a teammateís glove and immediately yell "You've still got 'em! You've still got 'em!" or "No play! No play!" (Some coaches prefer one-word communication, such as "No! No! No!" which means swallow the ball, you'll never get the runner.)

Finally, all players should go through with all plays, making the proper throw to the proper base. The exception is if a double play is in order and a ground ball is booted, in which case the fielder must be alert to her teammates who may call out "One! One! One!" to indicate that the double-play can no longer be made, so get an out at first. The runner from first is off on the pitch and has a running lead. But the batter must follow through with her swing and then start for first from a dead stop. This gives the fielder more time to retire the batter. So, even though the double play is muffed, a precious out can still be made.

You might spend five minutes on each of these four drills and accomplish a great deal in 20 minutes. Another variation is to have infielders doing these drills while outfielders, pitchers and catchers are doing drills specific to their fielding positions. The point is planning. A serious coach is, after all, a teacher of sports. Be conscious of the time frame in which you must work, set up a schedule, and stick to it.

As in other fields of learning, frequent short sessions are better than infrequent long sessions. Repetition is the key.